I didn’t always want to be a writer.
What? What did he just say?
Let me back up a moment. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. That’s because I kept running away from who I really was.
In this journey called life, there are moments that change not only our lives but, more importantly, how we see ourselves in the world. They define us. These moments ask, “Why am I here?” For some people, the answer is clear. They know exactly why they’re here, know what they want to achieve and boldly go after it. For others, it’s more drawn-out and ‘complicated.’ It’s more like a pilgrimage, but it feels like you’re going nowhere fast. For a long time, I fell into the latter group and meandered through life without a clear purpose, without landing in a place of belonging.
What does this have to do with me not always knowing I wanted to be a writer? In a word: a lot.
When you don’t know why you’re here, you don’t know where to begin. Let me rephrase that. When I didn’t know why I was here or how I could be of service, I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know how to step out into the world and let the best version of myself shine. I could not — would not — hear life speaking to me.
- I Accepted Being Gay
- I Learned to Believe in Myself
- I Learned to Forgive
I Accepted Being Gay
I grew up on the outskirts of Halifax (Nova Scotia) in a suburb called Lower Sackville. Raised in a religious household, I spent almost every Sunday since the time I left the hospital in church. I attended Sunday School and Bible camps, sang in the choir, directed choirs and became (ever so briefly to cover a maternity leave) a church organist.
I knew from an early age that — seven or eight — that I was different, although I couldn’t put a name to it. When puberty hit, I knew I wasn’t into girls, but I didn’t know what to call it. No one called it being gay or queer. At family gatherings, when the gossip started flying, I heard “He’s funny that way” or “She’s funny like that.” I didn’t recognize the disdain and thought that whoever they were talking about was a comedian.
I was black, raised in the Baptist tradition and grew up in a place where racial tensions ran high. Why would I want to make my life more difficult by admitting that I was gay? I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I didn’t want to be further ostracized. I didn’t want to end up alone.
I used my studies as a way to avoid the whole gay question. I became a bookworm and spent all my free time in the library. That’s because I’d heard stories about people who came out and were then thrown out of their parents’ home. Or they were told that, in their parent’s eyes, they were dead. I didn’t want to end up like that, mostly because I didn’t know how I’d cope. (And I can tell you, from personal experience, that hearing one of your parents say, “My son is dead,” cuts deep.)
But it was, at twenty-two, when I accepted that I was gay — and more than telling my friends and family a year later — that I’d been set free. That was when I began to love myself. In the most important of ways, I had found my footing. And looking back over the years, I can see that through my writing I’ve tried to be of service by helping people get to that other side of forgiveness. That place where we [I] can forgive ourselves [myself] and each other for the past that was, moving along conscious and alive in the present moment.
I Learned to Believe in Myself
Anyone who has dared to step into the public arena — artists, politicians, activists, writers — knows that there’s someone always at the ready to tear you down. Before social media, we wrote letters to the editor or organized protests. We bit our nails waiting for reviews to be published in newspapers or magazines, or for Roger Ebert to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Now we take to Twitter or Facebook to instantly voice our opinions, whether we’re fully informed or not.
I wrote for years without making any serious attempt to have my work published. I was terrified of being rejected and I wasn’t sure I could handle the criticism thrown at me. People told me I’d never ‘make it’ as an artist, that the road was too hard and, really … what did I have to say? I don’t know how long I let other people’s opinions hold me back. And they were holding me back — because I gave them power — from who I wanted to be.
I remember the moment I started to really believe in myself. It was a little over two years after my father had passed away from pancreatic cancer (he was 58 when he died). I had a cosy, well-paying government job, but I was bored. I was getting up at 4:00 am to write before heading to the office. I spent my lunch hour writing, and then put in another hour after work before heading home. Just the idea of going into the office in the morning made me sick. So I said to myself, “Enough!” In October 2004, I resigned from my cushy civil service job to pursue my writing.
I was terrified. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my half of the bills. I didn’t know if I would succeed. At the time, I felt like I had to try … that it was now or never. I had to believe in myself when no one else it seemed could or would. Slowly, things started to happen. I had my first essay published a few months later, followed quickly by a couple of short stories. No, I wasn’t making a living as a writer and would later take another mundane office job. Yet I’m certain that because I believed in myself — because of the energy around me — then providence moved. Other creative opportunities arose. I had started painting again, and within a year my works were being shown in group and solo exhibitions.
When my actions matched my beliefs (that I could write and paint, and be successful at it), most people cheered me on. Most. Not all. Funny thing… I didn’t lose any friends when I came out. It wasn’t until I started believing in myself — and took risks that had me moving more confidently in the direction of my dreams — that the people I thought would be in my life forever fell away.
But if I hadn’t believed in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the courage to, just over a year ago, self-publish The Flowers Need Watering. I wouldn’t have the courage to keep writing and share my vision of the world.
I Learned to Forgive
I write for a lot of reasons. Mainly, I like to explore, through the lens of a personal story, the aspirations of the individual against those of the collective. I hope to challenge the reader’s, as well as my own, belief system. It’s not just about asking, for example, “What are we doing here?” but also “How did we get where we are?” and “Could we get here another way?”
It’s the getting here that I’m most interested in because where I am today — settling into a place of belonging — is all about forgiveness. It’s about letting go of the past and all the ways I’ve felt betrayed by the people I thought cared about me. It’s about letting go of all the opportunities that I thought should have come my way but didn’t. It’s about not giving power to the past — the people and the events — to let it shape how I live and who I dare to be.
Do you know who you are? It’s not an easy question to answer. Knowing who you [I] are [am] is a journey where we delve into the deepest parts of ourselves and feel all the pain, joy, sorrow and love that has passed through us. We must arrive at a point where we transcend it all, where we are at one not only with who we are, but where we are currently in our lives.
Do I know who I am?
I am writer trying to be of service, giving myself over to the universe to let her use me for a greater good. And in so doing, it is my hope and prayer that the best version of myself shines brightly each and every day.
Do you know who you are? Where are you on your life journey? What’s most important to you now? Let me know in the comments section below.